Wednesday 27 December 2023

Parliament IS sovereign - but . . .

The "perception management" branch of the UK's right-wing has developed the technique of reducing complex issues to a three-word slogan, and then hammering away at it until enough people are convinced that this is an expression of the "popular will."  

This certainly worked for Prime Minister Johnson with "Get Brexit Done."  Rishi Sunak is attempting the same trick with "Stop the Boats," the chosen method of achieving it being the deportation to Rwanda of those unfortunates  (just 3.8% of the total of would-be  immigrants) who are reduced to attempting to enter Britain  by crossing the Chanel in small boats.

Given that the courts have declared  that this  threat is  illegal since Rwanda is not a safe place for them to be sent to, Parliament is now instructed to pass a law saying the it is safe.  The accompanying three word slogan is that "Parliament IS sovereign," -  so how dare the courts (enemies of the people?) try to frustrate the truly expressed ill (oops - will: Freudian slip) of the people as determined  by our sovereign parliament?

In the first of this year's very listenable Reith Lectures,  ( Professor Ben Ansell explains that democracy is sustained by a "a spider's web" of strands.  There is nothing new in this: it is what was explained to me a Mr Chekanovski (that may not be the correct spelling) in my first formal studies of politics way back in the 1950s.  To expand the Ansell lecture sightly, and with thanks to Mr Chekanovski and his many successors, in addition to a law-making  parliament the "strands" required for democracy to operate successfully include:

1. respect for the rule of law;

2.  the separation of powers (especially an independent Judiciary);

3.  freedom of assembly;

4. freedom of expression (especially an independent and balanced media);

5.  regular, free and fair elections;

6. respect for minorities;

7.  what Mr Chekanovski called "the British sense of fair play" and what historian Peter Henessy has more recently described as "the "good chaps" theory of government.

It beggars belief (that phrase again ) that Britain's democracy has become so debased  that our government can even propose the absurdity that Rwanda can be made a safe place simply by Britain's parliament saying that it is.

 Those with even the most cursory interest in the UK's politics can see  that our present government is blatantly chipping way at each one of the above strands.

 A government minister has argued that one of its  proposals did break the  law "but only in a specific and limited way; rather than being respected  the judicial system is regularly caricatured as being at the mercy of "lefty lawyers;" our right to assemble and protest is circumvented on various whims; the independent BBC is bullied and the bulk of the media are in the pay of the rich; measures  to  make elections fairer a ripped up and restrictions imposed on the right to vote; minorities (eg we"remainers") are dismissed "unpatriotic;" and any sense of fair play long since went out of the window.

Our liberal democracy is in crisis.  Rather than just relying of "good chaps" one restraint on abuse by the temporary minority that happens to hold the reins of power has so far been the realisation that "the other lot" might gain power and do the same to them.  That too has gone out of the window.

Rather than take revenge, I hope that, if and when the "other lot" (preferably including Liberal Democrats) do win a parliament majority we hall take steps to restore and improve  all the strands essential to a democracy, of which  I was taught to be proud.

Tuesday 12 December 2023

Party Game

 In Sunday's Observer (10th September) columnist Andrew Rawnsley suggests that, if we want to liven up we Christmas parties we might try listing the Tory "screw-ups" of the past 13 years in order of seriousness.

To start the ball rolling, here is my suggestion:

                     1.     The calling and conduct of the Brexit Referendum.

2.    The “Hard Brexit” settlement.

3.    The “Austerity “ policy in central government spending.

4.     Cuts to the financing and powers of local government.

5.    Failure to heed the recommendations of the Cygnus Exercise of 2016 on preparedness for a pandemic.

6.    The lateness of the lockdowns  in the Covid emergency.

7.    The discharge of hospital patients to non-ring-fenced care homes.

8.    The VIP line for medial procurement - PPE etc.

9.    The scandal of “partygate,” along with repeated lies on this and other matters,(not least the Brexit referendum) reducing trust in and respect for government

10. Cuts in the Overseas Aid Budget

11.Contempt for domestic law – the illegal proroguing of parliament.

12. Contempt for international law.

13.The “Hostile Environment” for immigrants – leading to the humiliating Rwanda policy.

14. The botched withdrawal from Afghanistan.

15. The privatisation of the Probation Service.

16.The Lansley “ reforms” in the health service.

17. Gove’s education ”reforms,” squeezing "the Arts" from education; OFSTED bullying; the Academisation of schools.

18.  Regressive moves in the operation of democracy.  (eg Voter ID, abolition of the second preference vote in “directly elected “ mayoral elections)

19. Contempt for the civil service.

20. The scandal of Grenfell Tower.


Suggestions for additional items (eg putting more people in prison for longer but neglecting the estate) and changes in the order are welcome.



Thursday 30 November 2023

The immigration deception


Thursday 30 November 2023

The immigration deception

As recently as December 1999 (which doesn‘t seem all that long ago to those of us in our 80s) fewer than 5% of the British electorate chose Immigration as one of the top five  issues the government should deal with.  This compared with 30% who chose the NHS as one of their top worries.

 However, once the century turned and the Eurosceptics became more effective at influencing British political debate, immigration began to increase in importance as an issue. As early as 2002 Theresa May warned the Tories that in trying to accommodate the right-wing nationalists they were in danger of being seen as the “nasty party.”  This, unfortunately, didn’t stop her, while Home Secretary, making her own contribution to the nastiness by deliberately trying to create a “hostile environment” for immigrants. 

Rather than oppose this deplorable trend the Labour Party whilst led by Ed Miliband produced mugs urging those “concerned about immigration” to "Vote Labour," and set a trend by including control of it among its on five election pledges in 2015.  Some senior members deplored the mugs at the time.  I think they’re all ashamed of them now,

Consequently today, as a result of the Tories’ desperate attempts to stem leakage of their support to the crudely nationalist UKIP party and its variants, Labour’s pusillanimous failure  to combat the bile by proclaiming the benefits Britain has received and continues to receive, Prime Minister Sunak is able to flaunt his “stop the boats”[policy  as one of his five priorities and he and his henchpersons claim to be expression “THE WILL OF THE BRITISH PEOPLE.”  (Capitals deliberate.)

Rather than the truth I believe this to be the product of despicable perception management to gather votes at any cost, including  the abandonment of all sense of humanity and decency.

 As a society we are better than that.

 Some facts were carefully spelled out in an article by Gaby Hinsliff in Tuesday's Guardian.  The vast majority of the record number which came to our shores in 2022 were actually approved by ministers, having been granted leave to work (40% of them in the NHS or Social care), study, join their families of seek sanctuary via “approved” routes for the favoured Afghanistanis (sadly not all of those who helped the British forces) and escapees from Ukraine. 

Only a very small minority come illegally by boats.  The flagship policy of deporting these to Rwanda is not only obscene  and ineffective  but even if implemented would have only a minuscule impact on the total of immigration.

 I like to enumerate how my own life is both enabled and enhanced by immigrants or the children (and these days, probably grandchildren) of immigrants.  They deliver my morning paper, clean drill and fill what’s left of my teeth, rung my favourite restaurant, provide about two thirds of my medical treatment on the NHS, dispense my medicines, provide the vicar, half the choir, much of the congregation and the brilliant organist of the church I attend, clean my car, drive about half the buses on which I travel, and much more besides, including paying some of the taxes which furnish my pension. 

Grateful thanks to them all.




Saturday 25 November 2023

The Autumn Statement



Readers longer in the tooth may remember the question with which the Liberals taunted the two major parties way back in the 1950s:  “Which twin is the Tory and which as the expensive perm?”*  This came to mind after hearing Jeremy Hunt's presentation of his proposals for the UK's economic future and Rachel Reeves's response.

 The Chancellor, Jeremy Hunt, certainly has the nicer smile, and the better jokes.  In his introduction to his Autumn Statement he painted a bright and optimistic picture of a growing economy with falling public debt, inflation well under control and absolutely the place to be for ambitious, innovative and enterprising go-getters of all ages. 

After a deluge of tempting possibilities unleashed over the weekend to whet our appetites: income and inheritance tax cuts, just maybe lower than justified increases in pension and social security payments, his changes were quite modest and eminently sensible.

 Pensioners and those receiving Universal Credit are to get the full whack, 8.7% and 6.7% respectively, and the Minimum Wage is to rise by 9.8%. The Super Deduction (a 25% exemption for taxation for every £1m invested) is to become permanent, which will encourage investment,  and National Insurance Contributions (NICs) are to be abolished or reduced for the Self-employed, and reduced by not one but two percentage points for the bulk of the workforce. These are sensible proposals because NICs are a tax on employment which is a “good” and should be encouraged.

With similar skill  but a grimmer face the Shadow Chancellor Rachel Reeves painted a picture of a very different economy,  with a sky-high tax take, the slowest growth in the G7, out-performed by two-thirds of the OECD members and with the level of employment not yet back to pre-pandemic levels.  She had only one joke: that the world looked different at ground level  than it appeared to do from a helicopter.

 Presumably the comfortable among us will believe the Hunt version and the not- quite-managing the Reeves.

 Many of the most desperate will ignore both.

They have a point. 

Frankly this parliamentary pantomime is depressingly irrelevant to the real needs of the country.  With crumbling schools, a Health Service on its knees, a totally inadequate Care Service, local councils on the brink of bankruptcy, prisons overcrowded beyond the level of decency, outrageous rents for inadequate housing, an unprecedented backlog in our courts, pothole-pitted roads, and worst of all, according to the Institute of Government and Public Policy,   4.5m of our population, 22%, of which 4.3m are children,  enduring poverty or destitution.  

It beggars belief that our Government dares to talk in terms of tax cuts rather than rises to remedy the situation, and the only rise the Opposition dare mention is the taxation of non-Doms, presumably because it’s a convenient jibe  in the direction of the Sunak family.

The two largest parties are frightened that currently the proportion of the National Income or GDP the government takes in tax, the “tax take” (a phrase I prefer to  “tax burden” – I’d like to see a society in which paying taxes is regarded as a privilege, but maybe that’s over-optimistic) is the highest for 70 years. 

That is undoubtedly true. But it does not mean that the UK is over-taxed. Figures from the impartial OBR for 2021 (the most recent year available) show the UK’s percentage of GDP taken in tax is 33.5%.  This is 3.3% BELOW the G7 average, and 6.4% BELOW the average for the EU14 (similarly advanced developed countries).

There is therefore an urgent need for our politicians to have the courage to grasp the nettle and tell us that repairing our broken society and making it fit for the 21st Century will cost money and we need to be prepared to pay the taxes to pay for it.

 Two days ago on Yorkshire Bylines John Cole spelt out “An autumn statement that would actually transform Britain.“ His proposals  included a  genuinely progressive Income Tax right up to the highest levels, Wealth Taxes and Land Value Taxation.

 It is too much to expect that, in the fervour of the next 12 to 18 months of electioneering, such radical proposals will gain any traction, but the progressives among the parties could suggest  the setting up of a Royal Commission to study taxation and ways to make the present system, which, like Topsy, has “just growed” and is full of anomalies, could be made fairer, less distorting , and more effective.

 In the meantime, opposition Treasury Spokespersons could be looking carefully at the 30 or so measures identified  by Prof Richard Murphy by which the tax take could be increased without "rocking the boat" (see previous post on 3rd October) but be careful not to mention them before the election so as not to give the Tory press chance to pour their  poison on them.

*  A "Toni" was a home perm which, according to the advert, produced the same results as the  expensive perms obtainable in ladies' hairdressing salons.

This is an edited version of an article which appeared in Yorkshire Bylines on 23rd November